Major stars from the ’60s and ’70s are terrified of being named in connection with the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal, according to PR guru Max Clifford. [Sky News]
It was no surprise that Gary Glitter was on the list; other names under investigation as part of operation Yewtree are undoubtedly – as Savile‘s “prolific” abuse was – an open secret in media circles; outsiders curious to discover the identities of others could do worse than keep an eye out for middle-to-old-aged entertainment figures hastily disposing of laptops, hard drives and usbs. There’s a good chance that many, like Savile, will have continued to abuse throughout their lives and careers. Which is not to imply that all the ‘names’ who have confided in Clifford are guilty; indeed, all maintain their innocence, however, in Clifford‘s words:
“The stars are concerned because of their hedonistic lifestyles when they were at the peak of their fame, when young girls would throw themselves at them … If you’re 19 or 20 and suddenly you become a pop star and a dozen girls burst into your dressing room… you don’t actually sit there and ask for birth certificates” (my emphasis).
I wrote a few days ago of my concern that the investigations might become too BBC-centric, and it seems that is indeed the case, with the focus of the BBC’s enquiry at least, being if and how corporation ‘culture and practice’ might have placed young girls in danger. Clifford‘s words express a point of view which will strike a chord with many; but they signify yet another blind alley, another straw man.
Talk of ‘hedonism’, ‘fame’ and girls ‘throwing themselves’ at ‘pop stars’ again narrows the focus of a debate which needs to be, on the contrary, broadened; men of all backgrounds, from all walks of life and without the cachet of celebrity and wealth indulge in similar behaviour every day: fathers raping daughters; uncles their nephews; teachers their pupils; carers their charges and so on: a reality that rather belies the notion that hedonism and fame are the problem, so much as gender and hierarchy. And whilst Clifford‘s glib remark about ‘ask[ing] for birth certificates’ might ring superficially (as well as literally) true one has to wonder about its relevance in the context of many of the offences allegedly committed by Savile and Glitter; middle-aged men preying on early/pre-teens. Their adolescent naïveté and passivity are precisely the qualities that draw the attention of men like Savile, who had remarked in interview (with Louis Theroux) that the idea of a full relationship with a woman was anathema to him; ‘brain damage’, to use his term.
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg demonstrated a similar failure to grasp the issues at stake with his comment that Savile‘s alleged crimes ”…show the ‘dark side’ of celebrity…” Celebrity is a peripheral issue at best; and the culture that enabled Savile to predate and escape punishment is scarcely specific to the BBC.
Complaints of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are more likely to derail the careers of the plaintiff/whistleblower than the accused, especially if the former is a woman and/or in a junior position (the latter almost inevitably the case; witness the testimony of Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig – bullies of all stripes are loath to victimize up). Kids, certainly in decades past, were unlikely to be believed, much less supported. And is it even true that men’s careers are destroyed by allegations, even convictions of sexual assault or impropriety? Despite years of suspicion, rumour mongering and even a number of complaints, Savile‘s career continued unabated, in large part thanks to peer collusion and apathy on the part of his employer and the authorities. When, then TV host. John Leslie was outed in 2003 as the alleged rapist of his former-colleague, Ulrika Jonsson, he simply moved into property development, trousering millions in the process. Other similar complaints made against him were dismissed for lack of evidence, although even he admitted “…[he] had never learnt how to treat women with respect” and “…my behaviour was at times inappropriate”. Roman Polanski‘s career as a movie director was scarcely troubled by his well-documented 1977 attack on (then) 13 year-old Samantha Geimer, whom he plied with Champagne and Quaaludes and sodomized in a swimming pool. John Wayne Bobbitt bounced back from genital mutilation – grisly, albeit apposite revenge on the part of the spouse he mistreated for years – to find work as a performer in the adult entertainment industry: an employer that, perhaps counterintuitively, draws a disproportionately large percentage of sexual abuse/domestic violence survivors into its ranks. Bill Clinton‘s Governorship and Presidency survived numerous rumours and allegations surrounding affairs, incidents of sexual harassment (notably Gennifer Flowers) and eventual revelations that he levered his position to take sexual advantage of intern, Monica Lewinnsky. The old boys’ network looks after its own, that’s the real problem, with the result that Savile is one old boy who’s escaped proper justice.
The upside is that the snowball effect of the initial few testimonies aired by ITV‘s ‘Exposed…’ programme has been unprecedented. With 300+ lines of inquiry and the matter being debated in The Commons, the biggest elephant in the fusty drawing room of patriarchy is suddenly all too visible. Whilst much media coverage is, and will continue to be sensationalist, we owe it to ourselves as a society to look beyond the immediate facts and tawdry speculations and to try to gain a deeper understanding of the sinister and deeply antisocial forces at work here.
It’s going to take more than a bit of PR wizardry to make this problem disappear.